India is in the face of a storm as the country comes to terms with not just the rape of an eight-year-old Muslim girl from a herder community but also the manner many have reacted to it. The latest news is that while Kashmir fights with itself, the family of the victim has quietly abandoned their home in Rasana village because they fear for their lives. The Indian government, with one of the largest armies in the world, cannot afford them protection in light of what has happened.
While the Jammu Bar Association called a strike to protest the India-occupied Kashmir police’s ‘mishandling’ of the investigation into the case, the victim’s father has left for an unknown place along with his wife, two surviving children and livestock. The purpose of the rape — which was to strike fear into the hearts of this hapless group of herders, has been achieved.
Police say the attack in January had been planned for over a month as a way to terrify the Bakarwals, a Muslim community of nomadic herders, into leaving the area in the Kashmir Valley.
It may be recalled that the bruised and battered body of the victim was found in a forest on January 17th near the Kathua city in Kashmir. The eight perpetrators accused in connection with the rape and killing the hapless girl are all Hindu men who kidnapped her on January 10th when she had gone to fetch the horses grazing in the meadow.
The victim was confined in a local Hindu temple for several days and given sedatives that kept her unconscious. She was raped for days, tortured and then finally murdered. One observer tweeted — what if it had been a Hindu girl confined to a mosque? Would the reaction in India have been as sedate as what we saw this time around?
Investigations led the police to the 19-year-old school dropout Vishal Jangotra who had often seen the girl grazing horses and to his uncle Sanji Ram, who was in-charge of the temple where police found forensic evidence.
Sanji Ram was a former government official who allegedly planned the depraved act. The rapists included Special Police Officers Deepak Khajuria and Surinder Kumar. Two other accused persons were policemen who tried their best to cover up the incident. All over South Asia, policemen are either participants in such crimes or are active in its cover-up — given the large amounts in bribes they receive as a result.
Meanwhile, the men accused in the gang-rape and murder are being protected by ministers and lawyers loyal to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. Soon after the suspects were arrested, members of the extremist Hindu Ekta Manch, or Hindu Unity Platform, marched through the streets of Kashmir displaying a massive Indian flag, chanting ‘Long Live India!’ and demanding that police release the men.
It took more than three months for Prime Minister Modi, who had remained silent all this time, to finally make a statement condemning the rape not only of Asifa but also of another incident in the UP province in which a parliamentarian from his party is involved.
But his statement only came after a nationwide protest which included a large candlelight vigil by Congress President Rahul Gandhi, who demanded a statement from Modi.
In Saudi Arabia, they behead men for rape. In China, they castrate men. In North Korea, it’s the firing squad. And in India and Pakistan it seems we love our rapists. We want to forgive them, protect them and let them loose on the streets.
Who can forget the rape of Dr Shazia Khalid at a fortified Pakistan Petroleum Limited facility in Balochistan in 2005 and how president Musharraf defended the rapist? How our president said that women in Pakistan get raped so that they can get immigration to Canada?
In the Asifa Bano case, politician Mulayam Singh Yadav — three times CM and once the defence minister of India commented “boys make mistakes”. Muslim MP Abu Azmi added “even women are guilty [of being raped].” Another commented “there is no place for women in our culture.” Possibly it is this sick mentality in both India and Pakistan that really binds us.
South Asia is the rape centre of the world. Are we doing anything to change it? Possibly not. Instead we are busy putting down each other when such incidents occur. India vs Pakistan all over again.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 16th, 2018.